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Smith Back for Unfinished Business


The 49ers looked into acquiring four-time league MVP Peyton Manning this offseason, but never did it cause Alex Smith to waver from wanting to remain with the San Francisco 49ers.

"This was the plan all along," Smith told moments after signing a three-year contract to remain with the club through the 2014 season. "This is where I wanted to be. The goal was to make that happen."

In fact, Smith would have welcomed the opportunity to compete with the future Hall of Famer if Manning also signed with the 49ers.

"I would have relished the opportunity," Smith later said in a conference call, telling Bay Area reporters he was informed of the 49ers looking into Manning by head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke.

But instead of competing with Manning, who signed a five-year contract with the Denver Broncos on Tuesday, Smith will return to the 49ers for his eighth season in 2012 joining second-year quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Scott Tolzien on the depth chart.

"I would have loved for it to happen a long time ago, but this process, this one more than most, dragged out a little bit," Smith admitted. "But I'm happy it's done."

With much of the league's focus centering on Manning's free agency suitors, Smith's own free agency experience ended officially Wednesday morning when the 27-year-old signal caller arrived to team headquarters to sign a three-year contact.

The team's No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft was most pleased to sign on with the club because it'll keep him together with a tight-knit 49ers locker room looking to settle unfinished business in 2012.

"That played a huge part in it," Smith said. "The biggest thing is the teammates here, this building, the group of guys we have in this locker room. All along, this is where I wanted to be. And because of those guys, fortunately, it finally worked out."

Several of Smith's teammates were in contact with him throughout the free agency process, often sending him text messages to check in on his status with San Francisco. They all wanted Smith to be a part of finishing off the year the right way and not in overtime of the NFC Championship Game like the team did in 2011, losing to the Super Bowl champion New York Giants 20-17.

"All of us realize what we did last year, but we left some stuff there," Smith said. "We left some things on the table and we all look forward to building upon it. Now we have an offseason in front of us to really get better and put the work in, put the time in, and really get better for next season."

The 49ers are certainly glad Smith is the one leading that charge.

"We are pleased that Alex has chosen to continue his career as a 49er," Baalke said in a statement released by the team. "His contributions were instrumental to our success in 2011, and we look forward to the continued growth of our offense under his leadership."

In being around the team and league for seven seasons, Smith is well aware that a club will never be the exact same in consecutive years. However, the quarterback who led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and his first NFC West division crown as a starter is eager to be back to work with a revamped offensive unit to go along with all 11 defensive starters slated to return.

"Year-to-year you're never going to have the same faces, but I think this organization has done a great job of keeping the core the same," Smith said. "All 11 guys back on defense is remarkable, the way they played last year, I'm excited for that.

"We lost a couple guys, but signed some new ones as well. We're going to have to come together again and put the work in."

Smith's career-best numbers (completing 273 of 445 passes for 3,144 yards with 17 touchdowns, only five interceptions and a 90.7 quarterback rating) should only increase now that the team has added to its receiving core, signing Randy Moss to a one-year contract and reportedly agreeing to terms with former New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham on a two-year contract.

Smith is well aware of both players' talents from growing up watching Moss and from playing Manningham twice in 2011. Smith said he was excited to have each receiver join the roster and is eager to work with them on the practice fields.

Not only does Smith relish the opportunity to work with teammates, new and old, he's eager to get back to work with San Francisco's detailed coaching staff.

"We have a whole year of film to really review and look at and put new concepts in to get better in some areas," Smith described. "Really get down into the details of everything and that's what this staff is good at. This whole building, the guys downstairs are willing to put in the time and work."

Smith and the offensive staff will be challenged to improve some of his statistics, mostly his turnovers. In 2011, Smith's five interceptions tied for third in NFL history for the fewest thrown in a season.

It'll also be a challenge to record as many fourth-quarter comebacks or memorable moments like the ones witnessed in the playoffs. Under Smith's watch, the 49ers registered five, fourth-quarter comebacks in the regular season, four of which took place on the road tying Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana's franchise record set in 1989.

Smith also engineered two key fourth-quarter drives to help beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFL Divisional Playoff Round, including a 14-yard post pattern touchdown pass to Vernon Davis that will live on in team history. Smith finished the playoffs with five touchdown passes and no interceptions.

In signing for three more years with San Francisco, Smith has shown a willingness to tackle those challenges.

"I look forward to it," he said.

It makes sense. Smith's happy to stick around in the Bay Area, too. He met his wife Elizabeth here, and the couple is raising their first-born son here as well.

"I grew up in San Diego but I've spent the vast majority of my adult life in the Bay Area," Smith said. "I really felt like this is home for me, this is what I identify with."

Now, it's a matter of gearing up for the start of the team's offseason program which begins on April 16.

That's when Smith will begin working with his teammates towards that unfinished business.

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